Mid to Late 1800s

Innovation of the Era - Steam Fire Pumper

Invented in the 1850's, the steam fire pumper revolutionized firefighting. One steamer with seven firemen could exceed the pumping capacity of several hand engines with 150 firemen. Since the steam pumper could be operated with considerably less firemen, many cities decided to make their fire companies paid companies during this era. This was because the expense of paying a few firemen was now reasonable. Some interesting points that are often misunderstood about steam pumpers are that first, steamers of this era used their steam engine to pump water from a water source only: they did not carry any water within them. Second, at first, steamers did not use their steam power to move their wheels; therefore they were unable to get to a fire without the assistance of men or horses pulling the apparatus. Later, steamers began to be pulled using steam power or gas powered engines. Third, steamers did not carry hose and were always accompanied by a hose cart or wagon.
Pictured: 1869 Clapp and Jones steam fire engine. Operating a steamer was a dangerous job. If everything was not operating correctly or the gauges were not being monitored, accidents could occur and the steamer could actually explode!